For Josh Short there are two kinds of artists in the world: prototypers and performers.
Prototypers think of an idea, execute it and move on to the next project. Performers find a thing they’re good at, say, painting mountain landscapes, and they do it over and over again.
One look at Short’s “Speed Trials Arcade” at Visions West Contemporary gallery reveals that he is, without a doubt, a prototyper. He’s always trying out new things, constructing them from scrappy materials.
In fact, the most telling aspect of his installation at the Visions West Contemporary gallery might just be how often it breaks.
“My role as an artist is like a jack of all trades,” Short said. “And today I’m like a mechanic.”
Last Friday, the gallery hosted a “Drink and Drive” event at which people were encouraged to play with Short’s driving simulators, listen to his Bomb Shelter Radio DJ sets and pound some beers.
The next day he sat quietly in the corner of the gallery, fiddling with the machinery of the toy cars, trying to get them up to speed after the roughing they received from being thrown around the room the night before.
The “Speed Trials Arcade” exhibition is, at face value, just that: an arcade.
Several of the road race games are constructed using old treadmills, among other eclectic materials, on which you try to keep the toy cars from flying off.
In one of his games, “Slow Speed Chase,” the concept takes a somewhat irreverent turn, allowing players to reenact O.J. Simpson’s high speed white Bronco chase from 1995. (Whether you choose O.J. or the cops is up to you.)
“When I was making art,” Short said, “there was always a moment of like, ‘How do we talk about the culture we live in and how do we stick it to the man, in a way? And how do we have a sense of humor and be fun?’”
In “Bob and Weave” a spinning barrel peppered with magnetic roadkill acts as an obstacle course for a biker couple — just don’t let Weave’s wig fall off.
“Escape From LA,” Short’s newest driving simulator, acts as a microcosm of a Los Angeles traffic jam, where players take on one of half a dozen car archetypes — the Rolls Royce, a freedom bus, a Toyota Prius, the cardboard truck, a redneck truck, and a replica of Short’s own car.
The arcade games take up the most attention, but the installation is also brought together by Short’s tapestry quilts, which he sees as a distinctly American art form.
“The American mythology is like a quilt made of all these different colors and dreams and lifestyles and opportunities,” he said.
His pieces are keenly influenced by pivotal aspects of American history and pop culture, from the development of outlaw motorcycle gangs to the punk and anarchist movements, and his experience growing up in the Bay Area.
“You never graduate from being a punk, you sort of just are,” he said. “Being part of a punk scene was always really what got me off, in a way. And so the energy of that stuff influenced me, like the sound and the high energy and the trance state that people get into. That felt like the high energy that I needed. So I think my artwork started to reflect that in some way.”
Short’s signature project, if he can be said to have one, might be Bomb Shelter Radio, a pirate radio station he’s been broadcasting across the country, on and off, since 2009.
It’s called pirate radio because, essentially, it takes advantage of open low-power FM radio frequencies. Short uses his equipment to air his broadcast over those frequencies, playing tracks from the hundreds of old 45s he has collected over the years. Several suitcases packed with records line the back wall at Visions West.
So don’t be surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice on the radio — it’s likely just Short, here for a few weeks to make life around Jackson a little more subversive.
Short will be around until the end of August, but if you want to pick one day to visit Visions West, you might want to think about the Jackson Hole Gallery Association’s August Art Walk at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Visions West’s art walk open house will also include work from Willem Volkersz, a modernist who works with neon, acrylic and found objects; Rachel Denny, a sculptor known for her deer mounts covered in cashmere cable knits; and Wendy Klemperer, who specializes in expressive, rough-edged sculptures of animals. ￼